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Capstone Works, Inc. has been serving the Cedar Park area since 2001, providing IT Support such as technical helpdesk support, computer support, and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.

New Innovations in Manufacturing Lead to Huge Benefits, But Introduce Cybersecurity Risks

New Innovations in Manufacturing Lead to Huge Benefits, But Introduce Cybersecurity Risks

The manufacturing industry has been deeply intertwined with modern technology since the 1950s and 1960s, when computer-aided design (commonly known as CAD) first enabled the digitization of these processes. Today, this interconnectivity has evolved into the Industrial Internet of Things. Let’s consider how these technologies, while greatly beneficial to productivity, have the potential to enable risks… and, critically, how to better resist these risks.

First, What is the Industrial Internet of Things?

The Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT, are all the connected elements now commonly used in the manufacturing process, and are a foundational part of Industry 4.0—the merging of manufacturing practices and smart technologies. By investing in this kind of automation, manufacturers are able enjoy a variety of benefits:

  • Improved uptime through predictive maintenance
  • Improved productivity through enhanced process efficiency and operational efficiency
  • Improved product quality 
  • Improved operational visibility
  • Improved production scheduling
  • Improved overall equipment effectiveness, or OEE

Based on this list alone, it is little wonder that manufacturers have embraced the IIoT—even without mentioning that the IIoT has the potential to decrease their operating costs. In fact, the McKinsey Global Institute reports that 2025 could see factory-focused IoT solutions creating $3.7 trillion in value.

While this sounds all well and good, it is important that we also see the forest for the trees and acknowledge that the IIoT also has the capability to open up a manufacturer to a variety of cyberthreats.

What Kinds of Attacks Could the IIoT Facilitate?

The modern smart factory’s inherent connectedness to the Internet allows more points of access than the industry has ever had before, making it vulnerable to a varied host of serious security issues. In addition to disrupting or suspending a manufacturer’s processes, priceless intellectual property and trade secrets could be stolen in a hack—a hack that very well could be facilitated by a vulnerability in one of the connected devices utilized on the floor. Data can also be altered with potentially catastrophic results.

On top of all that, an insecurity in a factory’s IT infrastructure could potentially allow its machinery to be taken over remotely, creating danger for both processes and personnel.

This has unsurprisingly led to increased attacks against manufacturers. The 2021 Manufacturing Cybersecurity Threat Index indicated that 20 percent of U.S. and U.K. manufacturers had been victimized by a cyberattack within a year prior to the report’s release—and just shy of a quarter of those manufacturers reported that they saw weekly attack attempts. The US Department of Homeland Security identified the manufacturing industry as the most targeted industry for infrastructure attacks by far, that vertical alone making up one-third of all total attacks.

This puts manufacturers in a tough spot—while the IIoT has become paramount in maintaining a manufacturer’s competitive capabilities in the marketplace, it can also be the root of many catastrophic business issues with serious repercussions.

Today’s Manufacturers Need to Prioritize Their Cybersecurity in Order to Remain Competitive

There are many steps that should be taken to accomplish this:

While there are a variety of ways that a cyberthreat can gain access to a manufacturer’s network, one of the most vulnerable is also one that can’t be fixed with a simple patch or update: the user. Everyone in an organization needs to be taught the basics of identifying and reacting properly to likely cyberattacks—and ideally, the organization would hold its vendors and business associates to the same standards. Unfortunately, the interconnected nature of the manufacturing industry means that attacks could easily come through and infiltrate a manufacturer through one of the other businesses neighboring them on the supply chain.

Of course, the actual IT infrastructure that a manufacturer relies on also needs to see the same proactive attention. Keeping a system as up-to-date as possible ensures it is as prepared as it can be to resist most threats. Newer methods of security also involve applying improved security to individual applications to make them more resilient against attacks, with some considering how machine learning may be utilized without unduly impacting the manufacturing process itself—and, of course, without making the costs prohibitive.

Different frameworks, guidelines, and best practices exist that—through their active compliance—a manufacturer could take advantage of to remain far more secure than they would be otherwise. Understanding the different compliances that a factory would be held to is the first step in ensuring that the tenets of these requirements are met. Even if a framework isn’t mandated, active adherence to it is a good step toward a more secure (and productive, and profitable) factory setting.

The IIoT Can Complicate Cybersecurity, but We’re Here to Help

You can count on Capstone Works to improve the cybersecurity of your manufacturing process, shoring up threats while also improving your efficiency. Give us a call at (512) 343-8891 to learn how we can strike the ideal balance between your operations, and your operational security.

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